Kicking off this year’s conference season: the GSA’s Annual Meeting, feat. Asian German Studies

The new academic year is fast approaching and, as every year, the conference season will be kicked off by one of the largest of its kind: the GSA’s annual meeting (18-21 September 2014). Members of the German Studies Association, which was founded in 1976 in the US as the Western Association for German Studies (WAGS) and re-named in 1984, will meet for the 38th time. This year Kansas City will have the honor to host the academic invasion of over 1,000 scholars from the US and, though in a much smaller proportion, other places around the globe (see an interesting article on this issue by Jochen Hung). Kansas City, sitting on the border between the two states of Kansas and Missouri, has given its name not only to a more “beboppy” kind of jazz and a more “jumpy” kind of blues but also a particular kind of slow smoked barbecue. Sadly, Missouri has recently been in the headlines for completely different reasons of course.

This year’s program, which is itself a book of 233 pages, promises a stunning number of 326 panel sessions and seminars in the course of four days. Thus, even the pickiest of all conference-goers might find their session of choice, in particular as the GSA is devoted to a broad understanding of German Studies, encompassing all areas of German history, literature, culture, politics and any other discipline relating to the German-speaking countries in any time period. For conference enthusiasts like me, on the other hand, this is conference paradise.

One of the highlights of this year’s program is certainly the “Asian German Studies” panel. This young field of studies is dedicated to the long history of encounters between the two contexts and has just recently become more accepted within German Studies. Its regular presence at the GSA’s meetings since 2009 is certainly an indicator of this, as are an increasing number of recently published volumes on different topics, see for example Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia (Berghahn, 2014), Transcultural Encounters between Germany and India: Kindred Spirits in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Routledge, 2013) and Imagining Germany Imagining Asia. Essays in Asian-German Studies (Camden House, 2013). Asian German Studies will also be represented by two panels at the IVG‘s (International Association for German Studies)  conference “Germanistik zwischen Tradition und Innovation” in Shanghai next year: Tradition und Transformation. Der Ferne Osten in der deutschsprachigen Literatur and Begegnungen zwischen den deutschsprachigen Ländern und Asien.

The field of Asian German Studies advocates multi-perspectival and interdisciplinary approaches, which is also demonstrated by this year’s sessions of the panel at the GSA meeting. They will present a variety of topics ranging from German-Asian interactions during the era of the world wars, images of the Other in literature and film, peoples in motion between Asian and Germany, German visions of China in the 19th and 20th centuries, the origins of Orientalism as well as the challenges to studying the Orient in the Orient.  Another session is dedicated to gendered views on German-Asian interaction, where I will have the opportunity to present a part of my new postdoc project on the negotiation of German and Chinese masculinities. In my paper I will discuss the ambivalent reception of Goethe’s Werther in modern Chinese literature from the perspective of masculinities.

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Sexuality, love, masculinities: an interdisciplinary conference in Stuttgart is pointing the way ahead

Despite the bourgeoning of gender studies in recent decades, the question of masculinities has been widely neglected. Gender studies have indeed often become synonymous with women studies, exclusively. For this reason, scholars of different disciplines decided in 1999 to found AIM Gender, an international working group for interdisciplinary men studies.

The working group’s 2013 Annual Conference took place in Stuttgart in December 2013, bringing together senior as well as junior researchers from a wide range of disciplines within cultural studies and social sciences. Under the conference’s topic “Sexuality, love, masculinities” sociological and historical studies were presented, elaborating on questions of masculinities in self-help books, television, cultural artefacts, sexual science, court trials and fitness studios, spanning a time period from early modern times until today.

Furthermore, literary representations of masculinities were discussed in detail, including papers on the figures of the pick-up artist, Don Juan and Dionysus, as well as papers focusing on sexuality that deviates from accepted norms and cross-cultural studies, such as my contribution on “Sexuality, Love and Power: Negotiating Masculinities in German and Chinese Literature”.

As a truly interdisciplinary event on a timely topic, this conference therefore certainly points into the direction of a desirably more collaborative way of studying complex phenomena across disciplines.

The conference papers can now be read online.

Kafka and the Yellow Cover: The Uses and Abuses of Colours

The very first Chinese translations of works by Franz Kafka in the early 1960s, shortly before the Cultural Revolution was launched, were wrapped in a yellow cover. They were part of Mao Zedong’s strategy of “knowing your enemy” and, as negative examples of Western decadent literature and a warning sign of the rotten capitalism, these so-called “yellow-cover books” (huangpi shu) were only disseminated among a small circle of selected readers, including high-ranking party officials and members of the Chinese Writers’ Association. Their cover was yellow in order to visually mark them as “hypocritical and treacherous spiritual poison”.

The uses and abuses of colours, like in this case, are the subject of a set of articles recently published in MALMOE – the socio-critical creative Austrian bimonthly newspaper run by the Verein zur Förderung medialer Vielfalt und Qualität (an association for the promotion of diversity and quality of media) in Vienna. After brown and pink the third part of its series Farbenlehre (colour theory) is dedicated to the colour yellow, featuring articles on a variety of topics including the “yellow badge”, the “yellow pages” and the “yellow card” as well as my article HUANG. Gelb und/in China, which can now be read online.